Procol Harum

the Pale

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'Sold on Song' : 31 May 2004

Brooker on AWSoP as PH top the pops in every house

Gary's whole interview may be heard here; or you may prefer to read the transcript below.

Richard Allinson (BBC Radio 2 DJ)
Sold On Song Number One - Procol Harum - A Whiter Shade of Pale.

Celebrating great songs and songwriting, the Radio 2 Sold On Song Top 30 [
sic!] Poll, as voted for by you, BBC Radio 2.

So listen, just before we play that big Number One record, weíre going to trouble Gary Brooker on a Bank-holiday Monday afternoon because it was pretty much all your fault, Gary. Congratulations!

Gary Brooker (Procol Harum)
Well thank you very much. Itís great news. Thank you to all your listeners. We know youíre the top station in the country, so ... we must be the top of the top.

The story goes that Procol Harum go into the studio to cut three demos in one morning Ė in the good old days Ė and it all kind of goes okay. And then the demos are being played in the office in the afternoon and every time A Whiter Shade of Pale comes on, people start sticking their head around the door saying, "What is that?" And that demo is the famous record.

Well, we did actually make a demo of A Whiter Shade of Pale and it sounded very much like the finished original. But we took that round to quite a few people that I'd had contact from being in The Paramounts before, George Martin, Ron Richards, Andrew Loog Oldham Ö


And for whatever reasons none of them saw any light in it whatsoever: TThey thought it was a bit long. And itís very strange, that, because youíd have thought theyíd have had the ears to go, you know, "Hang on, thatís a bit of a hit." And in the end, it was our publishers at the time who had their own record company: Denny Cordell, obviously spotted ... and David Platz, the publisher. And so we went and really made it ourselves with that team.

You were supporting Hendrix at the Saville Theater. I think it was June the 4th. Four days later, this is 1967 here, four days later A WHITER SHADE OF PALE goes to Number One, your first single straight at Number One, stays there for six weeks. It made Number Five in America. It got the Ivor Novello Award for the International Song of the Year that year. Not bad for a début.

Everything fell into place very quickly. In fact, we werenít entirely ready for it, if the truth be known, because it was very, very quick. There was no hype or build-up before. Itís just suddenly everybody wanted to hear this song. They couldnít live without it. And we had to go and buy stage clothes and sack our manager and sort the band out and lots of different things.

A tower blockís-full of A4 has been written about what the lyrics mean. Thatís one thing you share with Don McLean in American Pie because every time we play these two records somebody always says, "Whatís it all about?" And I suspect itís all summed up in the last two lines: "So we crash-dived straightway quickly and attacked the ocean bed".

When we made it, we wrote it and it had four verses but we decided that at eight minutes long, we were going over the top, so we cut it down to three verses for our demo that we made. And that was still rather long so we then cut it down to two. And that was still, even for those days, like nearly four-and-a-half minutes or something, was quite a lot, a very long record.

Promise you wonít tell us what itís really all about because then youíll blow it completely.

Do I know? Thatís the question. Does Keith Reid know? And he wrote it. It doesnít really matter what itís about. Of course, itís thoughts and itís feelings. I think one of the things about it, perhaps made it last, and itís just my viewpoint, is that it is a bit mysterious. Itís quite extraordinary that one of the, what seems to be one of the most popular records, as you say, of all time, in fact the most popular record of all time, and a lot of people donít know what the words mean. And a lot, some people like, you know, down on record like Tony Blackburn or somebody will say, "Itís complete and utter rubbish." I donít think itís complete and utter rubbish. I know itís very, very well-written words.

Gary, thanks for joining us today. And congratulations, youíre Number One again.

Thank you, thank you listeners. Have a good Bank-holiday.

Thanks, Gary.

A Whiter Shade of Pale plays.

Donít understand it. Just release it. Itíll be fine. Thanks to Gary Brooker. Procol Harumís Whiter Shade of Pale. Number One in the Sold On Song Top 100. Thank you for all your emails and your calls and your texts today. Thank you for all your votes, as well, because you voted in the thousands.

(thanks, Jill, for typing!)

More about AWSoP including other polls

Main page about this Bank Holiday poll, 2004

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